Using Music For Wellness

4 Ways to Include Music In Your Day

Music is a powerful tool that anyone can use to promote wellness. Creating and using playlists in your life every day can help you feel less stress and happier. We’ve put together some of our recommendations to help you pick the best music and use it in the most helpful ways. Happy listening!

What Music To Use

Based on my experience, the music you listened to from approx ages 15-25 will be most strongly imprinted on your brain. Using your preferred or favourite songs is always best but familiar music from that same era (the music played often on the radio) will also work. For example, I’m a 90s grunge kid. My formative years were spent listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. These are the songs on my playlist and I can sing along with every word. Yet, I can also sing along with the Spice Girls (Spice Up Your Life), Backstreet Boys (Quit Playing Games With My Heart), or Hansen (Mmmbop). These were most definitely not my favourite songs but after hearing them repeatedly on the radio, they too have imprinted on my memory and my brain remembers the words and can sing along. 

Creating Your Playlists

We are so fortunate that we live in the era of digital music. I remember spending hours as a teenager curating playlists and carefully recording each song onto a cassette tape from my CDs. Today it is as easy as drag and drop! Once you decide of the songs that are your favourites or most familiar, you can start organizing them into playlists. I personally have three. One is full of all my old favourite 90s songs with upbeat tempos. A second has all my favourite slower songs from the 90s. And the third is a mix of them all plus some recent favourites that I love. You may decide you want a playlist that is just country, or just classical. Or maybe one that is purely instrumental. The sky is the limit and putting your playlists together can be an enjoyable and nostalgic exercise in itself.

1. Morning Routines

Morning routines, especially when you have young children suck! It is stressful trying to get everyone organized and out the door (or ready for online) in time for work and school. One of my favourite tricks, especially when my kids were younger, was to put on music. And I rarely played my kid’s music, this was my time. My reasoning was, if I used music to tend to my stress, I would be calmer and then so would my kids. And trust me, there is nothing more gratifying than mortifying your teenagers as you rock it out in the kitchen while making breakfast. In the mornings I typically prefer a mix of faster and slower music. 

2. In Your Car

Did you know that finding time to listen to and sing along with music every day will benefit your brain? Singing increases your feel good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin and decreases stress hormones like cortisol. The car is a perfect place to sing like no one is listening, unless you have your windows down because then everyone is listening. Just watch your speed, it is very common to get a heavy foot while belting out your favourites while driving.

3. Exercising

It has been shown that using music while exercising will increase your stamina and endurance. When I envision this, I think of intense exercise such as running or HIIT (high intensity interval training) which is definitely not my cup of tea. But, music can help with less intense exercise as well. Going for a walk while listening to your favourite upbeat songs can improve the quality of your workout too. This happens because while you are singing along (even just in your head) with your favourite songs, it distracts your brain from thinking about how tired you are feeling. Also, you may be more inclined to walk a little faster (to keep beat with the music) and this will increase your heart rate and increase the number of calories you burn.

4. Winding Down

We live in a fast paced society. We are constantly bouncing from one to-do to the next and perhaps finding time to slow down is challenging. Our brains need time to wind down and prepare us for sleep. Using music in the evening as part of a bedtime routine can be helpful to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep as well as improve the length and quality of sleep. This is a time to focus on your slow favourites. Songs without lyrics will work best but if you look you can probably find most of your favourites in a slower instrumental version. If you can, aim for a playlist with songs that have approx. 60 beats per minute (same time as the second hand on a clock). This tempo will most successfully calm the brain and induce sleep.

One of the important things I stress when educating about music therapy is this; all music can have therapeutic benefit but all music is not music therapy. For example, if my partner gives me a massage it might be relaxing and feel good (or not), but it won’t have the same impact as getting a massage from a registered massage therapist. Music is the same. Using your music playlists has the potential to greatly benefit your wellness. A music therapist, however, can use music in specific and purposeful ways to help you get the best bang for your buck. 

Heidi Flynn, RP, MTA

Registered Psychotherapist & Certified Music Therapist